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TECHNOLOGY ACQUISION AND DEVELOPMENT BIOLOGICAL AND SOCIOLOGICAL ANALOGIES FOR EASY PRACTICAL INSIGHTS

TECHNOLOGY ACQUISION AND DEVELOPMENT

BIOLOGICAL AND SOCIOLOGICAL ANALOGIES FOR EASY PRACTICAL INSIGHTS

(Based on YS Rajan’s remarks in a CII Panel discussion during 2012 )

Y S Rajan

 

TECHNOLOGY 

‘Technology’ is one of the most used and abused word in contemporary public discourse.  Politicians proudly declare that Indian technology is “second to none in the world” and reiterate their commitments to ‘science’.  Science policy makers continue to demand more and more public funds for ‘basic research’ stating that more of it will give technologies to India.  Top Indian business persons (India Inc) proudly state that they have the latest technologies through partnerships and acquisition of  companies abroad.  They emphasize their commitment to innovation.  For  economists technology is a black box to be inferred through expenditures and value additions as determined in prices of products and services in the market. Most MSME’s (Micro Small Medium Enterprises) buy a few new machinery and are happy with their new technology acquisition.  They also go for ISO certification,  TQM, TPM, Six sigma etc., training with the hope that they have acquired technology strengths.  Persons in IT sector look at all technology only in terms of new computers, new software and new “apps”. 

But the reality on the ground is very different.  India is a very heavy importer of technologies.  In order to export, we import more of technology embodied materials and machine.  Our ‘current account deficit’ keeps on going up as we have very little of sustained growth of technology strengths and resultant intellectual properties (IP) in our enterprises.  Acquisitions of technologies are just for immediate consumption.  The actual realities of building up of technology strengths within industries, agriculture, services, institutions, and the country as whole, are much more complex.  It has to be an assiduous accumulation over a long period.  Europe and later USA built it up since industrial revolution over a period of one-and-half century.  The catching up country Japan with highly focussed efforts (and with borrowing of or import of technologies of US & Europe) took more than two decades to catch up.  So did South Korea.  There are examples from countries like Taiwan and South east Asian countries like Singapore, Malaysia & Thailand. 

There are earlier examples from Israel and Australia.   China is successfully emulating the examples of Japan, S. Korea and Taiwan:  Buy or Borrow Technologies; sometime, whenever possible, do reverse engineering; or do incremental additions and learn and finally enter the game of new creations. 

 I have written about various facets of these complex operations in my books “Empowering Indians” and articles.  Please visit www.ysrajan.com, the Article and book sections. 

In order that you may remember these complex processes technology acquisition and development in simple terms, I have developed some ASSOCIATIVE ANALOGIES so that you can remember easily and  develop insights for actions in actual situations.

BIOLOGICAL ANALOGIES: 

Real life situations mostly demand introduction of newer technologies on the existing systems.  In an agricultural field, it could be introduction of newer seeds or new irrigation methods or agronomic practices such as soil testing and using right fertiliser-micronutrient combinations etc.  In a factory it may mean induction of a new machinery, improvement of existing processes or use of different quality raw (input) materials etc. In the services sector, it may be an introduction of a new user friendly software or an efficient supply chain or a new monitoring system to improve the processes, a new storage technique, or a newer type retailing  etc., 

The net result of these incremental improvements would give better efficiency or increased  productivity or greater user satisfaction leading to larger market share or greater profits etc., 

How to get such upgradations in  technologies in a firm or industry or agriculture or live stock or businesses? 

It may be outright technology transfer with machinery, training of existing personnel (including the mangers etc.,) 

Imagine GRAFTING: a technique used very often by gardners.  Same rose plant when grafted with new branch of different flower variety, gives a new set of flowers.  Mango tree farmers use this technique very often.  This is a large scale pushing of technologies into a factory or a lab without disturbing too much of the existing system.   It could even involve transferring of expert personnel along with the new equipment and processes.  One part of the existing system is modernised and that leads to entirely new results in terms of outputs, even though the existing system may continue in one corner. 

Another major step, more in depth than GRAFTING, is CROSS-BREEDING.  This technique fundamentally changes the exiting genetic structure of the plants. In a factory it is like upgrading most of the existing equipment and changing the process sheets and training the personnel in new methods of operations. 

Another faster method of effecting the CROSS BREEDING on a large scale is MAKING HYBRIDS.  Low yielding varieties of grains when hybridised with high yield varieties, result in high yielding varieties.  Again in a factory or service sector, it is a mass scale application of newer incremental technologies. 

All the above have a mix of earlier technologies.  If the old is totally wiped out and to be replaced by a totally new system of technology processes (say new machines, different raw materials, process methods etc.,)  then one can adopt CLONING methods.  It is almost a carbon-copy of some other well running successful system. Often times consultants help to set up such a new system.  Many franchised units may be CLONED after the originals.  But this has its limitations; though initially it is very competitive as it is cloned after a successful company, it  has no independent innovative growth. 

Those who are not satisfied with above modes alone (they may be necessary at the initial stages in order to improve ‘technology intensity’ in the company and also to create ‘technology innovation culture’ in the company), have to go much deeper.  They have to disturb the very core philosophy of the company or firm or factory.  Of course, one cannot completely scrub the initial culture completely and totally replace by ‘cloned ones’, which are in any case like slave follower’. 

But one can remove some basic defects identified in company’s culture.  For example a total aversion to risk and therefore total avoidance of trial of a new idea which appears promising.  Such ‘genetic defects’ can be rectified by ‘splicing the gene and injecting’ relevant better gene material.  In other words, it is GENETIC ENGINEERING, just as some plants are made resistant to certain pests; some are enabled to withstand greater moisture stress. 

In such a phase of technology management, the factory or company will have a good degree of internal changes to the organisation. For example, introduction of R&D culture; creating internal capability to map how Intellectual property rights (IPRs such as patents, designs etc.,) are emerging in the world, in the area of interest to the company; debating alternate strategies and options; continual upgradation of skills of all personnel to deal with new technologies and the resultant businesses; new  marketing techniques etc., 

 

SOCIOLOGICAL ANALOGIES: 

Most firms (even institutions) can be broadly categorised as: 

LAGGARDS

FOLLOWERS and

LEADERS

In most fields of economic and social activity , in view of the strongly ingrained risk aversion and many decades of autarkic governance systems in post independence India, we have a large number of LAGGARDS.  They will look for continued govt. support, subsides, protection etc., Political systems may support them as they require patronage and that makes those in power more powerful.  But for the economy as a whole and for better lives of our people, it is not good to be LAGGARDS.  Those who are laggards get lesser incomes as a company or a farmer or individual. 

Laggards mostly tend to be very risk averse and are afraid of change.  In return they are satisfied with meagre rewards.  They do not even want to look ahead to know whether there are better pastures. They 

like to be safe in the company of other  laggards. This is equivalent to: 

HERD FOLLOWING like SHEEP 

Many students, unfortunately, follow this mode too – read the same tutorials, and if possible copy!  Our examination and entry norms seem to encourage such a pattern.  It is not good if we desire to create a high income (for all) and globally competitive India. 

Next stage of their graduation is pull out of HERDS and look outside.  If they see some “persons” outside, apparently doing very well, their desire to follow them, to emulate them.  Post liberalisation in 1991, there have been persons who wanted to follow global leaders. Though they may not acquire all their capabilities, they try to get into their lower end of the value chain.  Much of our IT industry grew up this way. 

Manufacturing sector followed a similar route by acquiring better capital goods (if not the very best), having foreign consultancies and also having joining venture.  Acquiring companies abroad also will fall in this category, because full technological and managerial strengths are  with the foreign entity in the foreign soil though ownership may be of an  India.  Sociological equivalent is:  EMULATION, FOLLOWER.  This is what happened to many “elite”  Indians under the British colonial rule. 

While being a FOLLOWER is better than being laggards, who have a danger of mass destruction, it has the danger of permanently being behind and dependent on the foreign (or Indian) leader being followed. Profitability will always be under pressure as the leader(s) can decide to crash a market or introduce new models of products  which may put pressure of the products/services which the follower is providing in the market place. 

Therefore it is necessary to get out of purely follower mode.  It may not be possible in one or two leaps forward (though leap frogging is a nice imagery to have).  Real life processes of building up internal technological strengths take many years.  Those who are leaders already,  continuously add additional strengths to themseles much easily.  Therefore follower in the march towards LEADERSHIP use two different approaches 

-SYNCRETIC and

-SYMBIOTIC

Syncretic is marginal adaptation of several modes: leadership processes of different types and follower type mixed up and yet be of great practical utility.  Just as many cultural adaptations have taken place in dresses, food, religious practices, languages used etc.,  One may loosely call them some hybrid mode. 

Another one SYMBIOTIC is existence of opposites (different ones)  collectively useful but their distinctness is not lost.  In a factory some portions may use totally brand new near – disruptive technologies but still other parts may be normal convention technologies and management processes.  This is normally a transition phase where one likes to make the best use of existing investments and yet attempting to modernise. 

SUMMARY 

On the whole, there is no escape from getting out of laggard status through  various (biological equivalent) processes described – grafting to genetic engineering. 

In sociological terms, it is necessary for industries, institutions and individuals to get out of HERD (SHEEP) mentality. They need to learn to emulate the best in the world. 

From then on, create SYNCRETIC & SYMBIOTIC systems where a large portion of innovation, technologies, business processes, ideas etc., are ours. 

If we maintain the above in a sustained manner for a decade or more, then we can move to LEADERSHIP status in many sectors. 

Let us keep the HOPE AND TRY HARD.